Chris Sallis moves an intubation box with Mark Dunham

Chris Sallis moves an intubation box with Mark Dunham, director of support services and safety officer at Athens-Limestone Hospital.

A wide assortment of critical equipment has been created and donated to Tennessee Valley healthcare workers by The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) campus community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UAH Foundation gifted $30,000 to support the efforts. The UAH Foundation Board voted to supply the money to defray costs UAH organizations have incurred in supplying face shields, intubation boxes, cleanroom gowns and other personal protection equipment (PPE) that is critically needed by the state and local health providers.

"The UAH Foundation’s sole mission is to serve UAH. With the Foundation’s generous financial support and UAH’s expertise, innovation and commitment to service, this is a natural partnership that allows us to meet the needs of our community," says Mallie Hale, executive director of the UAH Foundation and vice president for University Advancement.

The College of Nursing; the Systems Management and Production Center (SMAP); the Department of Art, Art History and Design in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Studies; the Rotorcraft Systems Engineering and Simulation Center (RSESC); and the College of Engineering’s student Space Hardware Club have donated PPE and other 3D printed items essential to the care of COVID-19 patients and the protection of caregivers.

An RSESC researcher is also involved in the development of Auburn University’s RE-InVENT ventilator system.

The university’s College of Nursing has served as a focal point for most campus-wide equipment efforts. The college has donated 150 gowns, 200 surgical masks, 50 goggles, 100 surgical shoe covers and 100 surgical caps to Crestwood Hospital and Huntsville Hospital.

As part of a collaboration with Nursing to develop new ventilator technologies, Cubic/GATR received one Ambu-Bag, two ventilator tubing setups, a PEEP valve and lines, plus the loan of one lung simulator.

A NASA Marshall Space Flight Center team led by UAH alumnus Jonathon Jones has received one Ambu-Bag setup and a PEEP valve as part of ventilator development efforts in collaboration with Dr. Tracy Lakin, a Nursing clinical assistant professor, and Dr. Lori Lioce, DNP, executive director of the College of Nursing’s Learning Technology Resource Center and a clinical professor.

Additionally, Nursing has provided the SMAP Center with 5-mil laminating sheets for face shields and provided 50 masks, 100 gowns and three hand sanitizers to the UAH Faculty Staff Clinic.

Nursing has worked closely with other UAH entities to produce and deliver the needed equipment, says Dr. Lioce.

"When COVID hit, we were emailing various shields and plans and wanted to put the 3D printers to work and test the solutions," she says.

"We have been using all recommended social distancing protocols to pick up and drop off and using Zoom to coordinate weekly. It is an amazing elaborate supply chain at this point and we haven’t even seen one another except through windows," Dr. Lioce says. "One person prints, one orders supplies, one drops those supplies for drilling holes in the transparencies, one picks up, one organizes output and one delivers."

Shields and related equipment are soaked in bleach before being distributed. The operation has been underway for over five weeks.

Chris Taylor, an assistant professor in the Department of Art, Art History and Design, teamed with Chris Sallis, an RSESC research engineer, to produce intubation boxes that help shield healthcare workers from airborne droplets when intubating a patient.

The pair produced three prototypes and then manufactured 24 boxes. Receiving them were Decatur Morgan Hospital, 14; Athens Limestone Hospital, three; the Madison branch of Huntsville Hospital, two; Hellen Keller Hospital in Sheffield, one; Huntsville Hospital, one; and Crestwood Hospital, three. At least eight more boxes are in production and three of those will go to Highlands Medical Center in Scottsboro.

"I was contacted by a colleague, Professor Nick Kuder who teaches graphic design at Western Michigan, about the need hospitals had for intubation boxes to protect medical personnel from being infected with COVID-19," Taylor says. "Western Michigan vetted the project through their own Medical Simulation Center. Shortly after seeing the project, I contacted Chris Sallis about how feasible it would be to fabricate these boxes."

Sallis’ expertise in production CNC work was central to the design, fabrication and distribution of the boxes to hospitals, Taylor says, and the project was a great blend of talents.

"Artists and engineers share the commonality of being creative problem solvers, when this pandemic began my initial reaction was how can we help?" Taylor says. "When I reached out to Chris Sallis, his reaction was automatic, ‘Let's do this.’ It’s not often that one has an opportunity to make such an immediate and important impact on people's lives."

Sallis says the project was a perfect fit for RSESC’s manufacturing capabilities.

"We saw a demand for a product that could not be made with the typical additive manufacturing methods that many were already employing to make PPE for this pandemic," Sallis says. "Combining a simple, robust design for the intubation boxes, along with our experience in prototype manufacturing efforts with CNC routers, allowed us to be agile in our response to this need."

A quickly developed workflow allowed the manufacture of three intubation boxes per hour.

"We could assemble them almost as fast as we could produce the parts," Sallis says.

On his own, Taylor has also been 3D printing replacement parts in the Salmon Library Makerspace Lab for PPE and printing face shield components as part of the College of Nursing’s distribution effort.

Justin Harrison, a principal research engineer at RSESC, collaborated with former Auburn University mechanical engineering classmates Dr. Michael Zabala, an Auburn assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and Ryan Hill to create Auburn’s Re-InVENT device, which utilizes a common CPAP machine to provide warm pressurized and moisturized air to patients at predetermined intervals.

The Re-InVENT unit interfaces with a CPAP machine and uses solenoid valves controlled by a programmable logic controller to set the inhalation and exhalation timing of the supply of air to the patient. It also allows for medical oxygen to be supplied.

"I was a part of the original ZOOM meeting where me, some former classmates and former AU faculty brainstormed ideas on how to develop a cheap ventilator from commonly available parts to meet the anticipated shortage," Harrison says.

Harrison focused on U.S. Food and Drug Administration compliance documentation and justification, component sourcing, hardware design on interface components and documentation of the design.

"I spent a lot of my time researching FDA standards and writing justification statements for why the RE-InVENT device should fall under the FDA's emergency use authorization (EUA) and researching potential suppliers for check valves, pressure relief valves and solenoid valves," he says.

More than 100 units have been produced. Auburn has submitted the required EUA paperwork for the Re-InVENT design and is waiting for FDA approval.

UAH’s SMAP Center has 3D printed, manufactured and delivered over 52 face shields and 25 surgical mask straps to Crestwood Hospital, over 86 face shields and 79 surgical mask straps to Highlands Medical Center and over 30 surgical mask straps to Huntsville Hospital. Additional deliveries to Crestwood and Huntsville Hospital are planned, as well as deliveries to Athens Hospital, Lakeland Hospital in Haleyville and Helen Keller Hospital.

"We got involved in this as a response to a crisis," says Dr. Gary Maddux, SMAP Center director. "My theory – and I think one shared by the team – is that to beat a threat such as a pandemic requires people to be smart. Now those ‘smarts’ could be as simple as staying home and social distancing and washing hands. But being smart also means applying the talents and resources that you have. We had resources – equipment and expertise – so we decided to be more proactive in our approach."

SMAP 3D printing expert Steven Forney and principal research scientist Norven Goddard printed face shields and frames on a nearly 24-hour schedule, while SMAP associate director Bill Sabados worked to cut and drill the transparencies. SMAP researcher Ishella Fogle tracked inventory and deliverables. Research associate Joan Sims organized shipment of raw materials.

The SHC, a student club advised by Dr. Richard Tantaris, a lecturer in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, has donated 350 face masks and 800 gloves.

In addition, SHC has 3D printed the headgear for over 100 face shields. The donations were made to the Huntsville Fighting COVID project, which distributes them to medical facilities in the Tennessee Valley.

The SHC effort was organized by Shelby Tull, a sophomore in aerospace engineering, who teamed with Sam Morrison, a sophomore in applied and theoretical physics, and Thomas Bennett, a senior in aerospace engineering.

"Our ability to help demands action," Tull says. "I wouldn't feel right sitting at home doing nothing when I know I could be helping."